A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Legislature’s last chance to get congressional districts right
The third time had better be the charm for the Florida Legislature this week as it opens a two-week special session to redraw congressional districts. The redistricting assignment should be taken over by the courts if lawmakers again fail to draw districts that meet constitutional requirements that the lines be drawn without favoring political parties or incumbents. If legislators finally comply with the Fair Districts amendments voters approved five years ago, the result should be more competitive districts and a more balanced congressional delegation that more closely reflects the divided electorate.
The Florida Supreme Court gave lawmakers clear direction when it ruled eight of the 27 congressional districts have to be redrawn and the initial draft of a new map drawn by legislative staff appears to be a good-faith effort at following those unambiguous demands. In Tampa Bay, the redrawn District 14 now represented by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is contained in Hillsborough County and no longer includes parts of south Pinellas County that feature predominantly minority neighborhoods. In North Florida, a redrawn minority access district runs from Jacksonville west to the Tallahassee area instead of south to Orlando. In South Florida, the districts are generally more compact and more successful at keeping counties and cities whole. Those are all positive steps.
The revised map would be a substantial improvement for Tampa Bay. In Hillsborough, Castor’s district would be more compact and include the University of South Florida and Republican-leaning New Tampa, which are in the city limits and would benefit USF as its medical school looks to move downtown. In Pinellas, District 13, now represented by Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, would generally cover all of the county south of Dunedin. In fast-growing southern Hillsborough, more than 100,000 residents in communities such as Sun City Center and Riverview would shift from a sprawling interior district represented by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, to a more compact district covering Manatee County and part of Sarasota County represented by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. The overall result would keep communities with more common interests together.
Predictably, congressional incumbents already are complaining. Buchanan does not want to lose half of Sarasota County that is in his current district. Two South Florida incumbent Democrats would find themselves in the same district. In Jacksonville, Rep. Corrine Brown already has joined a lawsuit to preserve the existing minority access district she has represented since it was created in 1992. But that is the beauty of the Fair Districts amendments: The districts are required to be drawn without regard to incumbents or political parties.
The Bradenton Herald — Manatee County aiming to diversify revenue streams to serve rising public demands
Even as Manatee County commissioners and administrators continue work on the 2015-2016 budget and then seek public comments during two September hearings, Administrator Ed Hunzeker is looking further into the future. He hopes to win support from the board of commissioners and the public for structural changes in covering the costs of the county’s growing needs.
In an interview with the Herald Editorial Board last week, Hunzeker outlined the goal. The basic thrust is greater diversification of the county’s revenue sources since the budget has historically relied far more heavily on property taxes than other counties.
He proposes commissioners select community members to sit on a committee and come up with recommendations for changes, with all meetings open and transparent in the public’s interest.
At first blush when digging into some details, the objective looks reasonable and merits serious consideration and debate. Manatee County is about to hit a budgetary wall by continuing to spend down the stabilization fund to cover costs while keeping the millage tax rate flat again in a political environment that opposes any increases.
Not even public safety won commission approval for a small millage increase, by 0.742. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has been clamoring for more revenue to hire more deputies, and the proposed property tax hike would have funded 12 more officers as well as dispatchers and expanded park security, among other items. The commission deadlocked on a 3-3 vote on July 30, killing the proposal.
Hunzeker’s projections show the reserve fund will be depleted by 2018 — to the detriment of the county’s credit rating. The day of reckoning is fast approaching.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Fair District: New 6th boon to Volusia, Flagler
The Florida Legislature convenes Monday for a special session with one task: Comply with a state Supreme Court order to redraw congressional districts that violate Florida’s Constitution. The court last month ruled that the current map violates the state’s Fair Districts amendments.
Based on the proposed new map lawmakers released last week, the redrawn districts would be very fair to Volusia and Flagler counties.
The new 6th Congressional District would contain all of both counties, whereas the current lines cede territory in southwestern Volusia to the 7th District. The new district’s northern boundary would include less of St. Johns County, and would trade its current foray into Putnam County for some territory in Lake County.
Concentrating Volusia and Flagler voters into one district would be of significant benefit to this community. First and foremost, it would be represented in Congress by one person who would be more likely to come from Volusia or Flagler counties and therefore be more attuned to local issues, raising the area’s profile in Washington. Ron DeSantis, the current 6th District representative, is a Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach who hasn’t always been as attentive to Volusia and Flagler matters as he could be. For instance, when Volusia needed to muster its political muscle to secure federal funding extending SunRail service to DeLand, DeSantis was the lone member of Central Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation not to support the idea. His only explanation was a perfunctory statement released by his office: “Congressman DeSantis does not believe that SunRail is a good deal for taxpayers.” Residents deserve more engaged representation.
The Florida Times-Union — Parking garage and apartments don’t belong in the Landing
As the city sketches its vision of a redesigned Jacksonville Landing, what do the citizens want at this premier location?
What would both attract people and serve as a brand for the city?
Sleiman Enterprises, which controls the land with a long-term lease, had a plan, but its design just didn’t excite people.
Now the design considered by the Downtown Investment Authority would offer a tunnel-like view of the river.
There would be a small amphitheater, but two eight-story buildings would flank either side of the Laura Street extension.
The buildings would contain a hotel, apartments or condominiums, a parking garage as well as retail stores, offices and restaurants.
There isn’t much difference between the plan Sleiman originally posed and that being offered by the DIA.
And that’s the problem. Maybe both designs started at the wrong point. They both assumed that Sleiman Enterprises’ interests must be appeased first.
Maybe Sleiman’s interests and those of the public are simply not compatible.
Let’s go back to the beginning and consider the land itself.
Florida Today – Dockery: Presidential race makes great reality TV
In 15 months we will choose our next president and most political pundits thought they had it all figured out. Many expected it to be a match of the political titans and a rematch of political dynasties. A Bush-Clinton match up seemed inevitable. At least that’s what the talking heads told us.
But in any good reality show there are always plenty of twists and turns. On the Republican side, candidates just kept throwing their hats in the ring until we got to the 17 candidates now vying for the nomination. Instead of decreasing the number of candidates from the previous election spectacle, the field grew even larger, creating a logistical nightmare — especially for debate organizers.
Candidates with credible political resumes find themselves falling into several tiers based on early poll numbers. The field includes U.S. senators — Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz — and a former senator, Rick Santorum. It includes governors — Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal — and former governors, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore.
The other candidates never held elected office. Carly Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett Packard and Dr. Ben Carson is a renowned neurosurgeon. But it’s the final candidate — Donald Trump — who’s shaking up the Republican primary.
Despite an awkward, rambling, disjointed campaign announcement, Trump struck a chord with a surprising number of primary voters. I must admit, I found it amusing and at times painful to watch. I wasn’t alone.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers
The wheels of justice are grinding to a halt in a number of federal courts, thanks in part to Florida’s junior U.S. senator.
Federal courts have 31 declared judicial emergencies, including three in Florida, due to vacancies and a backlog of cases. Yet Sen. Marco Rubio and other members of the Senate judiciary committee have been blocking judicial nominations at a record rate.
Jeer: Rubio and other Republicans on the committee, for playing politics in obstructing and delaying President Barack Obama’s nominations to those courts.
A memo released Tuesday by the liberal advocacy group Progress Florida and other organizations found that the committee is on pace to confirm the fewest number of judges since 1953.
Just five of Obama’s judicial nominations have been confirmed in 2015, far behind the pace of other presidents in their seventh year, according to the report. A nominee for the Southern District Court of Florida, Mary Barzee Flores, has been blocked for more than five months from even having a hearing.
The Why Courts Matter coalition estimates there have been more than 38,800 missed cases due to the backlog and about every 24 minutes a new case is added to that backlog because of vacancies.
Cheer: The city of Alachua, for being named by a corporate site selection company as one of the top 40 small cities for attracting advanced manufacturing.
The New Jersey-based Boyd Company chose Alachua due to its low cost of doing business and proximity to interstates, a rail line and Jacksonville’s port, as The Sun reported last week.
The Lakeland Ledger — Banking on Cannabidiol — Limiting Business Operations
The Florida Department of Health is vetting 28 applications for five medical marijuana production facilities statewide. One hopeful is the 185,000-square-foot former Sealy mattress factory in Lake Wales. There, a company called Grow Healthy Holdings, which has teamed up with McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery in Eustis, seeks to make cannabis-based therapeutic oils.
Under Florida’s Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, enacted last year, this select few will be allowed to process and distribute items dominant with cannabidiol, or CBD, an ingredient that can combat the effects of cancers, seizures, or inflammatory disorders. CBD products also contain minute traces of THC, the chemical in pot that causes its euphoric effect.
The Health Department will announce the successful applicants by early October. Grow Healthy and McCrory’s seek to be the lone producer for a 14-county region that spans Florida’s midriff. Yet it’s possible these five facilities could form the toehold of a new industry, since medical marijuana proponents vow to return to next year’s ballot the proposed constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana that fell just short of adoption last November.
Had Amendment 2 passed — it garnered 58 percent of the vote, but needed 60 percent — state officials project that medical marijuana sales could generate between $138 million to $5.6 billion, raking in extra tax revenues between $8.3 million to $338 million. That was based on a patient pool of 417,000 Floridians.
It’s unclear whether just five widely dispersed facilities could serve what is essentially the population of Seminole County. It also remains to be seen how accurate the size of the market could be. But one thing is clear: barring an adventurous attitude by some bankers, companies like Grow Healthy face a dilemma over where to put their moola.
The Miami Herald — Deadly combination
Anyone who is shocked by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s proposal to open up state parks to hunting hasn’t been paying attention. After all, this incredibly damaging idea comes from the same administration that:
▪ Refused to push for land purchases that would help restore water flow to the Everglades.
▪ Didn’t stand up for voters and insist lawmakers appropriate ample Amendment 1 funds to preserve fragile land.
▪ Severely cut funding for the state’s water-management districts.
▪ Eliminated other funds for the state’s regional planning councils.
▪ Eliminated still other funds for a University of Florida research lab working to stop invasive species from ruining the state’s agriculture and environment.
▪ Abolished the Department of Community Affairs, responsible for growth management.
▪ Made “climate change” a forbidden phrase in state documents.
Obviously, “environmental protection” is open to broad interpretation in this state.
The Orlando Sentinel — Political uncertainty is better for democracy
The Florida Legislature’s latest stab at redrawing the lines for the state’s congressional districts — an effort set to get underway in Tallahassee on Monday — is making incumbent politicians around the state nervous. And that’s a good thing.
Last month the Florida Supreme Court ruled that eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts in the last map approved by lawmakers violated the constitution’s voter-approved ban on drawing boundaries to favor parties or candidates. A base map drawn by legislative staff to comply with the ruling, released last week, wound up changing the lines for 22 districts.
Barring major revisions by lawmakers during the upcoming special session, at least four congressional districts now considered safe for one party would become tossups. The advantage in some other districts would switch from one party to the other.
Half of Florida’s voters failed to cast ballots in last year’s general election. But with fewer predetermined outcomes on Election Day, the new map could encourage more voters to go to the polls.
More-competitive elections also could persuade more candidates to make appeals for support across the aisle, instead of just shoring up their party base.
Yet there’s good reason to be skeptical of this latest attempt from lawmakers at congressional redistricting: It would be the third one following two previous, unconstitutional efforts. This time, whatever lawmakers pass will go before a judge for approval on Sept. 25.
Given the Legislature’s track record, that’s also a good thing.
The Ocala StarBanner — A controversial DEP appointment
Florida’s governor and Cabinet today will consider the appointment of Jon Steverson as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
There’s a problem with the appointment appearing on the agenda: During a meeting June 23, Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members clearly agreed to interview Steverson and make a decision in September, not in August.
However, on July 29, the chief Cabinet aide to Scott, Kristin Olsen, blithely said the date was changed, saying that an unidentified “objection” was no longer a factor. “We just figured we’d move forward,” Olsen said.
Only Robert Tornillo, aide to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, questioned the scheduling, accurately telling his colleagues that placing Steverson’s appointment on the Aug. 5 agenda would conflict with what had transpired during the June meeting. Rob Johnson, aide to Attorney General Pam Bondi, said the governor was free to move up the decision, so long as adequate public notice was provided. Deputy Attorney General Kent Perez chimed in, but his words were inaudible, thereby defeating the purpose of recording the video and audio of the aides’ meetings. (Speak into the microphone, sir.)
The Pensacola News-Journal — Gospel not only about religion
The July 31 article titled “County Funding Gospel Concert” implies that the Brownville All Star Concert would be given for religious purpose. African American gospel concerts are given for entertainment. The county can give money for the purpose of entertainment when the entertainment attracts tourists. Entertaining and attracting tourists is what this concert will do.
Someone seems to be worried about proselytizing or encouraging concert attendees to change their religion. Proselytizing is not the purpose of any African American gospel concert. Entertainment, along with drawing local and tourist dollars, is the purpose of this concert.
I have never heard of a gospel concert given by African- Americans for the purpose of proselytizing. As I have said before, slaves sang day and night for freedom. The Negro Spirituals, the first songs created in America, were songs that expressed the slaves’ prayerful plea for freedom. Freedom, not proselytizing, was the reason why slaves created the Negro spirituals. Today’s gospel songs are rooted in those Negro spirituals .
I am a senior citizen who grew up in the Elvis Presley days. Today, I like to google Presley to hear him sing “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” This song was written by Thomas Dorsey, an African American known as the father of gospel music. Elvis, like Louis Armstrong, does a good job of singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” No one has accused Presley or Armstrong of proselytizing. Both Presley and Armstrong were known as entertainers.
I can assure you that the gospel concert is for entertainment. Tourists will come from Mississippi, Alabama, and other parts of Florida solely for the purpose of entertainment at this gospel concert.
Most people know that African Americans and European Americans go to eleven o’clock church service on Sunday morning for proselytizing. And most know that African Americans and European Americans go to a gospel concert at night for entertainment.
The Palm Beach Post — Florida’s scam-filled recovery industry must get clean
Anyone who has ever loved an addict or an alcoholic knows what a huge moment it is when the addict admits he or she needs help, and accepts entry into a recovery program.
Families who are desperate to see their loved ones get sober will often pay whatever it takes. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to read of how some operators are fleecing vulnerable families.
The Post’s Pat Beall and Christine Stapleton described in great detail last Sunday how some sober home operators, and apparently, doctors, have discovered that the fastest way to profit from captive customers isn’t to charge them outrageous rent, but to require they undergo frequent drug tests, often at inflated charges, to ensure they are “clean.”
But it’s not just the families of addicts who are being fleeced. It’s anyone who pays for health insurance, because overcharges can drive up premiums.
Basic drug tests can be bought at a pharmacy for about $25, Beall and Stapleton reported, but some sober home operators, apparently in league with lab companies, are sending the samples on for extensive extra tests, charging potentially thousands. Some homes reportedly test every resident seven days a week, for a vast array of substances.
As the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Dr. Stuart Gitlow noted: “There’s never a reason to test every day,” because many drugs stay in the system for days or weeks.
Some insurers are suing. But where are health care regulators and law enforcement officials? There were FBI raids on a couple of operators in 2014, but since then, crickets.
Cigna in July filed suit in U.S. Southern District Court in West Palm Beach, against Frontier Toxicology, Hill Country Toxicology and Sky Toxicology, related Texas companies all represented by Delray Beach health care lawyer Jeffrey Cohen.
The Panama City News-Herald — The larger problem is Goodellgate
It is difficult this morning to ascertain which fails the sniff test more, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting a program to educate their female fan base about football, or the ongoing migraine over who did what with the footballs prior to New England’s playoff game last season against Indianapolis.
We’ll leave the Bucs’ sexist initiative as a lame-brained attempt at reaching out to a large section of its rabid following and move on to a hiccup that should have been given a dose of bitters long ago.
Like about a week after it happened.
That’s how long it would have taken long-departed NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to dispense with the nonsense in New England that has now attached itself to the league like a moray eel.
One can argue whether or not this is quarterback Tom Brady’s halo-buster, or possibly just another shred of evidence that the Patriots play fast and loose with the rule book.
Likely it is an issue that in actuality is more of a non-issue. Past and present quarterbacks who have gone on record about a preference for the inflation of footballs provide some insight that this is nothing new. If so, it could have been handled accordingly by the league office and we all would have been allowed to move on.
Not so in this era of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s leadership by eeny, meeny, miny moe. Instead of seven days to discard a rather trivial event, and come out with a fine and edict that the league will safeguard all footballs prior to opening kickoffs, we are inching toward seven months of discord, controversy, appeals and old-fashioned TMI .
The stink is attached to the league, and most notably the commissioner’s office. Rozelle had to deal with more weighty concerns, such as a large number of players betting on games from week to week. That was back when the average salary was closer to $14,000, not $1.4 million, or even $14 million or more earned by the stars of today.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Scott could learn leadership lesson from Kasich
Florida is shaping up, once again, to be the biggest swing state in the 2016 presidential race. That means there’s a lot of interest in whom Republican Gov. Rick Scott might be supporting.
Scott insisted in a statement he gave to Politico Florida last week that he hasn’t made up his mind. He vowed to get behind the candidate with the best economic plan. Fair enough.
But there’s one Republican in particular among the 10 who participated in the opening debate for top-tier candidates who offers a model for leadership on another issue that has bedeviled Scott: health care.
Two-term Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has been among the few Republican chief executives to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income people in his state. His decision made health care available to some 275,000 uninsured Ohioans. He explained his decision clearly at Thursday’s debate.
Meanwhile, Scott has spurned the federal offer, even when presented with a free-market approach to using the funds by a nearly unanimous state Senate. Scott boasted in his statement to Politico about saying “no” to expanding “Obamacare in Florida.” But what that really means is he denied 800,000 Floridians a shot at purchasing private health insurance under the Senate’s bipartisan plan.
Kasich, who continues to take a beating from some fellow Republicans for expanding Medicaid, delivered a compelling defense of his decision Sunday in a Fox News interview. Making routine health care available to the working poor saves the much-higher cost of treating them in hospital emergency rooms when they are sicker, he said. Expanding treatment for mental illness and drug abuse reduces the prison population and the crime rate. Accepting federal funds brings back billions in taxes from Washington, D.C., paid by Ohioans.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Time is now to ensure Voting Act’s legacy
On Thursday we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 becoming law.
The time is now for Congress to address the nation’s enduring voting challenges and to make permanent the entirety of the act, as well as enforcement provisions that guarantee and protect all Americans’ right to vote.
The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Many risked and lost their lives in the fight for this most basic right in the United States: the right to vote.
The right to vote is the most powerful instrument of change. It insures a representative democracy. For communities of color, the Voting Rights Act succeeded in breaking down prejudice and injustice and securing a better future for all Americans. This fundamental right must be guarded and expanded in the never-ending work to create a more perfect union.
We recognize that registering to vote is only the first step in being an active citizen. In 2012, turnout for black voters was 66 percent compared to 64 percent for white voters, 48 percent for Latino voters and 47 percent for Asian American voters. Overall, voter turnout dipped from 62 percent of eligible citizens voting in 2008 to 58 percent in 2012. Some 93 million eligible citizens did not vote.
The foot soldiers who walked by faith across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma in 1965 had dreams of full civic participation and equal application of the voting rights law. While we have seen a tremendous increase in voting within minority communities, these statistics suggest that more work is needed.
A half century ago, minority members were virtually excluded from public office. At that time, there were only 300 black elected officials nationwide, and just three blacks in Congress. According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in 2011 there were roughly 10,500 such officials.
The Tampa Tribune — Toss jai alai fronton idea
Hillsborough County doesn’t need another major gambling center, and it certainly doesn’t need it in the challenged neighborhood near the University of South Florida.
Local officials should quickly put an end to talks about building a jai alai fronton in the area, particularly at the University Mall site favored by Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist.
As the Tribune’s Mike Salinero reports, a local group is trying to revive jai alai, which operated for 45 years on South Dale Mabry Highway before closing in 1998.
Billed as the “fastest sport in the world,” the Basque-rooted jai alai can be exciting. But there is no reason to revive a gambling operation that failed for lack of business here and is struggling to survive in the remaining six Florida frontons.
Moreover, a major gambling-entertainment venue, and the low-paying jobs it would bring, would deter investment by high-tech, biomedical, engineering and other high-paying enterprises that should be recruited for the area surrounding USF, the Moffitt Cancer Center, the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Florida Hospital Tampa.
And a gambling operation, designed to entice patrons to stay and spend as much as possible, would certainly undermine the University of South Florida’s appeal.
This is not the kind of amenity parents seek when reviewing potential universities for their children. It would be an inappropriate neighbor for the university, which has an annual economic impact of $11.5 billion and whose national prestige continues to rise.
Former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe is heading the Innovation Alliance, which is rightly working to transform the area into an innovation district. That will never happen if gambling becomes the focal point.